Sunday 18 March 2018

Delightful winter dogwood

Winner in Winter: Dogwood, which is easy to grow, is a great addition to your garden
Winner in Winter: Dogwood, which is easy to grow, is a great addition to your garden

Gerry Daly

The bark colour of dogwood is a useful addition to the winter garden, especially beautiful when highlighted by the fall of snow. The colour of the bark is only revealed when the autumn leaves fall, and the dogwood stem colour is further developed by being exposed to sunshine. It is a popular shrub in gardens and has been much used in commercial landscaping too.

Dogwood is a native plant with red bark on a large bush to three metres or so. It mainly occurs wild in parts of the centre and west of the country and it can look very pretty in the winter sunshine. The wild species is not used much in gardens, as selected forms have better colour and are not as big. 'Winter Beauty' is outstanding with bright yellow shoots with orange-red tips. The variety 'Viridissima' has bright-green shoots.

'Sibirica' has bright red winter bark over the whole plant, not just the stem tips, while 'Kesselringii' has red-purple winter bark. 'Elegantissima' has variegated leaves and red winter shoots, as has 'Spaethii', but these coloured leaves may look out of place in a natural setting. 'Aurea' has yellow leaves and this can look better than the variegated kinds. 'Flaviramea' has bright yellow-green shoots that are very striking in winter.

The best bark colour is carried on the youngest shoots but it fades after a couple of years as the bark ages and thickens. The brightness of the bark can be maintained by hard pruning in spring. The stems can be cut down to nearly ground level. This does not need to be done each year, every two or three years will do because annual pruning can weaken plants growing in poor soil, and they might need a boost by feeding with some tree and shrub fertiliser. Bark colour is best developed in an open position with full sunshine.

The bark dogwoods look even better with some good bark-colour trees nearby, such as the white stems of birch, the peeling bark of the paper-bark maple and the mahogany-bark cherry. These trees lift the colour upwards and draw attention to the dogwoods. The dogwoods look great with a drift of snowdrops and crocuses close by, and yellow or white daffodils really set off the bark colours of red, green or yellow. The new spring foliage on the dogwoods can hide the withering leaves of the spring bulbs. The bulbs can be affected by shading of the dogwoods but if some pruning is carried out, the shading will be less.

In autumn as the leaves begin to fall, dogwoods take on rich colours. The red forms turn to blazing red and the yellow and green kinds turn to yellow or yellow flushed with red. Dogwoods are easy to grow in any ordinary soil, even heavy and quite poor soil.

Sunday Independent

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